ByÂ Anuj Malhotra:
The democratization of the filmmaking process — a result of the flooding market place with easy-to-master prosumer level cameras and increased awareness of cinema trends from around the world owing to portable storage devices, high-speed internet connections and digital exhibition — means that more individual voices than ever before, often without official patronage or sanction, are seeking spaces of exhibition. There is vast and steady mobilization in the field; young filmmakers from across the country are making a conscious choice to articulate local and private anxieties as opposed to the homogenized universes of the mainstream cinema. This means that there is massive proliferation of independently produced content — of a cinema that is independent at least in the economic mode of its production if not always in spirit or style — while this dynamic entropy opens up possibilities of a massive overhaul of methods in production, distribution and exhibition; it is also a cause for concern. Essentially, it translates into an era of confusion: when there is so much to see, and all of it is independent, rendering the term therefore obsolete and meaningless, who really decides what one should be watching?
One of the answers to this question is the relatively small-scale alternative film festival — one that exists through an act of conscious rejection, and if need be, in defiance of the local multiplex chain, built as it is to supplement profits to the mainstream monster. In the very act of its existence, there is political subversion — this, it extends and entrenches even further through its programming, through the films it selects, through the directors it invites and most significantly, through the audiences it addresses. Like a refugee in a large metropolis whose multiculturalism is always an illusion, it seeks a small corner for itself, one where it can, purely through the virtue of existence, propagate its own values, find its own meaning and create its own community.
It has been close to thirty years since the film society movement effectively ended in its country, but because of DVDs, there seems to be mild resuscitation in the recent past — small film clubs have sprouted over the country, these screen specialist films but serve an even more essential function: they counter a pop-culture that encourages self-absorption and isolation and instead, give people an opportunity to come together, engage with each other. Even more significantly though, various individuals with connections to the erstwhile film society movement, or to independent documentary production or even those who are alumni of the film institutes, have now mobilized resources to reinstitute the glorious days of the past — they have forged collectives to setup various alternative film festivals across the country.
There is the example of Gurpal Singh, who has pioneered the Bring Your Own Film Festival in Puri, Odisha; or of Shei Heredia, responsible for the annual Experimenta Film Festival held in Bangalore. Similarly, there is the Sonapani Film Festival, and also, DOK Lake Leipzig Festival in Naukuchiatal, Uttarakhand. The choice of host cities for these festivals: small hill-towns or places by the beach — also reveals a conscious reclamation project — if the mainstream has annexed all the metropolises, these independent film festivals operate from ‘smaller India’.
For instance, residents of Dharamshala for many years, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, the Indian-Tibetan filmmaking couple, have long believed that the town’s exciting profile would make it a perfect location for an international film festival. The first two editions of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) — a truly participatory, volunteer-run affair — saw titles like Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, Ramon Zurcher’s The Strange Little Cat, Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade and Nishtha Jain’s Gulabi Gang play in the small Himachal Pradesh town. The festival is, in effect, an articulation of Sarin and Tenzing’s faith in the cinema to foster a genuine, meaningful exchange, to cause grand shifts in collective perception and to vitalize a local community. The third edition of the festival will take place from 30 October — 2 November, 2014. To attain the last and perhaps the most significant objective, the festival launched DIFF Film Fellows, a programme which provides filmmakers from the region with opportunities of exhibition, wider distribution and mentorship provided by seasoned practitioners of alternative film.